The Big Law career guide for law school students, graduates, and young lawyers, from landing a job at elite firms to picking a practice area

  • Law school students and aspiring lawyers faced a tumultuous year as the pandemic caused setbacks with recruiting and bar exams.
  • The legal industry has weathered the initial storm well, and is looking to attract top talent.
  • Hiring partners and recruiting chairs at some of the top Big Law firms offer their tips on impressing interviewers and landing a summer associate position at their firms.
  • Bankruptcy, data privacy, and healthcare are among the practice areas in high demand, and the tech sector is on the lookout for more legal talent, too.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's been a rollercoaster year for law school students and graduates.

Schools took a hairpin turn to remote learning in the spring, and recent graduates were stuck in a state of limbo as bar exams were continually delayed, forcing firms to push back their start dates for incoming first-year associates. The tumultuous saga of bar exams continued as the primary software used for the test experienced a slew of tech glitches and accusations of cybersecurity infringement and discrimination.

Another change caused by the pandemic: on-campus interviews (OCI) for law firms' summer associate programs — the primary pipeline for new talent at firms — were pushed back from the beginning of the fall semester to later in the academic year, with January 2021 as the peak time for virtual interviews.

Despite all the setbacks, the legal industry is looking to be in good shape in the new year, and is looking to attract top talent.

Big Law summer associate recruiting:

The changes in OCI timing and format introduce uncertainty for students, many of whom feel like they're in the dark. How will law firms view spring semester's pass-fail grades? Has the pandemic affected firms' hiring needs? How can I network and make connections when everyone's confined to boxes on Zoom?

Recruiting chairs and hiring partners at some of the most prestigious Big Law firms, including Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, share what they're looking for in an ideal candidate, from strong communication skills to an ability to work as a team player. They also discuss what students should know about their firm to demonstrate genuine interest, and share their top tips on impressing interviewers in a virtual setting.

Read more:

  • 7 dos and don'ts of virtual interviews for Big Law summer associate programs, according to hiring decision-makers at Skadden and Latham & Watkins and a top industry recruiter
  • Kirkland & Ellis recruiting chairs and industry insiders lay out how to get hired at the top-ranking law firm
  • How to prep for an interview at elite law firm Latham & Watkins, according to its hiring chairs and 2 top industry recruiters
  • How to stand out during Morgan Lewis's individually-tailored virtual interview process, according to the Big Law firm's recruiting manager
  • How to impress interviewers and land a job at elite global law firm Baker McKenzie, according to its recruitment director, hiring partner, and 2 industry recruiters
  • How to land a summer associate gig at global law firm White & Case this year, according to 2 hiring partners and top legal recruiters

Hot practice areas in law:

While law students aren't expected to know what type of law they want to specialize in off the bat, a demonstrated interest in a particular area can help set them apart during interviews. Attorneys and recruiters lend some advice on what practice areas are especially in demand now, which can give students interested in those areas a leg up.

Bankruptcy, data privacy, and healthcare are among those in highest demand, especially with the sea changes caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tech is another buzzy area for lawyers, with firms like Freshfields and Paul Weiss showing a growing interest in establishing a West Coast presence amid the tech and life sciences boom. Plus, there's a ton of demand, according to a recruiter.

Read more: 

  • 9 recession-proof legal practice areas set to boom, according to top lawyers and recruiters
  • Recruiters and headhunters say these are the 8 hottest law firms to work at if you want to work in the booming tech industry
  • Big Law firms are launching new groups dedicated to data privacy and biometrics. Here's why they're betting changes in regulations are creating a huge opportunity.

Staying on top of your game:

Last year, delays in bar exams and law firms' first-year associate start dates left many law school graduates stuck in a state of limbo. Amid uncertainty and setbacks, industry experts recommend the best ways to keeping legal skills sharp, from engaging in pro bono work to reading up on various aspects of the ever-evolving legal field. 

Read more:

  • 23 books on everything from Ruth Bader Ginsburg's writing collection to a mindfulness guide for lawyers that industry insiders say rising attorneys should read
  • Top law firms are delaying their first-year associate classes. Here are 3 ways law school graduates can stay on top of their game in the meantime.

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